South Africa’s rugby success at the Under-20 level is a template cricket and football could do well to follow, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku.
Virat Kohli has had two hands in India’s ICC trophy victories in the past two years – the 2011 World Cup and the recently concluded Champions Trophy.
But he learnt the art of performing under pressure at a young age, having won the 2008 Under-19 Cricket World Cup as captain.
Entrusted with the responsibility at senior level, he took to it like a duck to water.
On that searing April night in Mumbai two years ago, he walked in at 31/2 against a rampaging Lasith Malinga.
Kolhi’s 35 may look insignificant when seen alongside Gautam Gambhir’s 97 and MS Dhoni’s unbeaten 91.
With Gambhir’s weakness against express pace and the moving ball, Kohli nullified the Malinga threat and allowed Gambhir to milk the spinners and provide the platform for Dhoni’s helicopter finish.
It was the same scenario at a different setting in Edgbaston last Sunday, when Kohli walked in at 19/1 with James Anderson and Stuart Broad swinging the ball on a string.
Again, he crafted a crucial innings that not only stabilised India but set them on their way to a match-winning total.
South African cricket does not have that kind of winning experience to fall on, even though they have made two Under-19 World Cup finals.
History will have it that each team that has won an ICC tournament since 1999 has had winning roots cultivated at junior level or a trophy win at some level.
The only team to buck this trend was the West Indies Champions Trophy-winning team of 2004.
South Africa’s 1998 Champions Trophy-winning team had players who were gold medal winners at the Commonwealth Games earlier that year.
Rugby has a similar development structure to cricket in that development is tracked from Under-13 level upwards.
What rugby has done right, despite its horrible transformation track record, is converting its junior success into World Cup glory.
The Junior World Championships, in its various guises, may have only started in 2002 and 2004 respectively, but World Cup winners, except for England in 2003, have had players who tasted success at the junior level.
It took New Zealand a longer time to get their players to adjust to the demands of international knockout rugby but there had to come a time where their domination of Under-20 rugby bore fruit.
It was the same for Springbok rugby prior to their Paris triumph in 2007.
The lessons are there for South African cricket and whether they adhere to them will determine their ICC success.
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